(CNN) — You brush your teeth at least twice a day to prevent plaque from building up in your mouth and see your dentist regularly for additional maintenance. It’s just having good hygiene.
But how often do you practice mental hygiene?
Whether you have a specific concern or are just trying to get your day a little better, taking about 15 minutes each morning to take care of your mental health is something everyone could benefit from, explained Broderick Sawyer, a clinical psychologist in Louisville. , Kentucky.
“This is the mental health equivalent of brushing your teeth before you need a root canal,” he said.
Mental hygiene seeks to reduce cortisol levels, the main stress hormone. An intentional daily practice to relieve stress will not only make you feel better today, but research suggests it could improve your well-being later.
In fact, high cortisol levels can lead to a host of physical health complications, according to 2020 research. Along the same lines, a 2016 study found that emotional regulation has been shown to increase health resilience in old age.
How to start then? Sawyer created a method for mental health hygiene. And he explained why it should be part of your daily routine and how to incorporate it into your life.
Yes, you have 15 minutes to dedicate to your mental hygiene
If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, finding an extra 15 minutes in the morning to wind down sounds like yet another hurdle on your to-do list. However, that time will make the rest of the list easier to do, Sawyer said.
“It’s not that I don’t have time, you have time for a lot of things,” he said. “If we can really (practice mindfulness) throughout the day, then our mental health needs less of our energy, less of our juice.”
Taking the time to reset your head space at the beginning of the day means the stressors of the day aren’t going to pile up on an already overwhelmed system.
And if you start the day stressed, that’s often the benchmark you return to for the rest of the day, Sawyer said. When you start with a clear and relaxed mind, you have a calm reference point that you can return to.
“Practicing mental health hygiene is like cleaning your mirror and looking at it: when you look at it and you know what you are and what you’re not,” Sawyer explained.
Understanding what a relaxed reference point feels like and what takes you off that line can help you have compassion for yourself and others who may also be feeling anxious or upset, she added.
“When we do these things every day, we’re essentially ‘practicing feeling happy,'” Sawyer said. “Then, in turn, this can make us feel more secure when stressful life situations arise, because we do a good job of nurturing ourselves,” she added.
Here’s how to build a daily mental hygiene practice.
1. Try new activities
The first step to improving your mental health hygiene is to experiment with different activities — anything that calms you down and lowers cortisol, Sawyer said.
“It’s just learning to treat and cultivate that inner space with awareness,” he added.
To start, set aside 15 minutes every morning with the goal of slowing down and intentionally focusing on your inner well-being. The activities you dedicate that time to can be the same ones you already do every day, but in a more relaxing way. For example, sipping your morning coffee slowly with a few deep breaths or swapping the radio news for music you enjoy on the way to work, Sawyer explained.
But changing those activities could also help, like sitting outside for a while, going for a walk or stretching, he added.
The important thing is to keep trying new things until you find something that works for you. And don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to see the benefit.
2. Follow closely what you feel with your mental hygiene
An important part of experimenting also involves journaling, Sawyer said.
After trying a new activity in your 15 minutes, taking note of how you felt afterward and for the rest of the day can help you understand what kinds of things work best for you.
Are you calmer throughout the day? With more energy? Better able to handle stress? The feeling you’re looking for may change, but the goal is to cultivate a basic baseline that helps you feel better as the day progresses.
Journaling can also help you stay positive if you don’t immediately get the results you hoped for from the practice, she said.
“You just stumble across those things through your own practice of trying things intuitively. Then if they don’t work, that’s fine and just write it down,” Sawyer said.
3. Pay attention to what you need at different times
No activity will work all the time, Sawyer warned. Keeping an eye on what you need in different contexts can make a big difference.
“So if I have a work day with a lot of meetings, maybe I need to be a little more upbeat and upbeat. Or maybe I need to focus more because it’s a very writing day. Those are different energies,” Sawyer continued.
That might mean finishing your 15 minutes with an espresso one day or doing a mindfulness meditation another day, he added.
4. Add more mental hygiene minutes throughout the day as needed
Ultimately, those 15 minutes in the morning can be a not so heavy task. You may even start to crave a few extra moments for mental hygiene throughout the day.
Anytime you feel good, but at least three days a week, Sawyer suggested adding some low-impact physical activity. For example, walking, cycling or doing yoga.
It’s also helpful to add some time to unwind at the end of the day if you can, by turning off work notifications, stepping away from screens and taking some time to wind down, he added.
“Once we find that tool or collection of tools for ourselves, we can master how well we use them,” Sawyer said.